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(4th LD) No additional new coronavirus cases reported in S. Korea, 28 potential cases monitored

All News 23:06 January 29, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES more details in 2nd para, last 4 paras)

SEOUL, Jan. 29 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's health authorities said Wednesday they have not diagnosed new additional cases of the new coronavirus in the country but are monitoring 28 other potential cases amid heightened quarantine rules.

So far, the country has confirmed four cases of the novel virus that causes pneumonia-like sickness, with the latest one reported Monday.

According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), 187 people have experienced signs of the new virus strain since Jan. 3, and 155 have tested negative and been released from observation and isolation.

Of the four confirmed cases, the first was reported Jan. 20, with the others coming Friday, Sunday and Monday. Authorities said they are keeping close tabs on 387 citizens who may have come in contact with those infected.

The third and fourth patients were asymptomatic, or symptom free, upon arrival here from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the fast-spreading virus, raising concerns they may have spread it to others unknowingly.

Hospital employees wearing protective gear wait at the entrance to check people for symptoms of the new coronavirus at Seoul National University Bundang Hospital, south of Seoul, on Jan. 29, 2020. (Yonhap)

The third patient is known to have been in contact with 95 people, with the fourth confirmed case having come in contact with 172 people.

Common symptoms of the coronavirus, thought to have originated in Wuhan, central China, include fever, sore throat and breathing difficulties, with more acute cases involving chills and muscle pain.

South Korea has already raised the country's infectious disease alert level one notch from "yellow" to "orange," the third highest. The country, moreover, is currently engaged in screening about 3,000 people who have arrived in the country from Wuhan after Jan. 13.

Park Hye-kyung, the director of the KCDC's public health emergency and bioterrorism department, said officials are contacting everyone on the list individually and checking up on their health.

In regards to the potential for spreading the new virus, she could not make any prediction at present, especially since South Korea's proximity to China means the situation will only be resolved if the outbreaks in the originating country are contained.

"Domestically, the country could technically declare an end of the health crisis only after 28 days have gone by without a patient being discovered," the health expert said. The period reflects the 14-day-long known incubation period of the coronavirus, plus another two weeks for extra margin of safety.

The whole of China has been categorized as a "coronavirus risk area," and Seoul has strongly advised its citizens not to visit the central Chinese city.

Airports across South Korea have set up checkpoints to screen passengers from China and other countries for signs of illness, with local authorities accelerating quarantine efforts to contain the virus as people return from visiting relatives and from foreign travels.

Seoul, in addition, will send chartered flights to Wuhan on Thursday and Friday to bring back 720 Korean nationals from the city. All arrivals will be held in quarantine at state facilities in Asan and Jincheon for 14 days so they can be checked for any signs of the illness.

The government said it plans to airlift people who show no symptoms first, with everyone to be kept separate as much as possible during their isolation period.

China has confirmed 132 deaths and 6,078 people infected with the virus as of Wednesday. This number includes cases reported in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao and exceeds the total infected people tallied in the country during the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak.

Outside of China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, the United Arab Emirates, Australia, France, Germany, Canada and the United States have confirmed cases of the new virus.

People wearing masks wait in line to pass the quarantine checkpoint at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, on Jan. 29, 2020. (Yonhap)


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